If there is one word that can be used to describe the culture in Hyderabad, it is ‘diverse’. Hyderabad has always found itself rooted to traditions along with art. It can be seen through the various monuments and iconic architectural structures in the city that are testaments to the city’s glorious history such as the Charminar and the Golconda fort. Culture and creativity here manifest themselves in almost all economic, social and other activities.
A multitude of influences has shaped the character of this city in the last 400 years. The city of Hyderabad was built around the Charminar, which formed the centre piece of the city. The Old city of Hyderabad was designed with Charminar as it’s centre and was spread around in four different quadrants according to the settlements. Towards the north is the Char kaman (four gateways) which can be seen in the Indo- Islamic architecture style, incorporating Persian architectural elements. The Hindu Bhagyalakshmi temple is located at the base of the Charminar. Charminar is a perfect example of the amalgamation of both Muslim and Hindu culture which is historically known as ‘Ganga – jamuni tehzeeb’. It showcases an eclectic mix of different religious festivals and communities who coexist in harmony.
Subodh Singh, an artist from Hyderabad is known for sculpting idols for Ganesh Chaturthi festival since many generations. His father is a sculptor and used to sculpt beautiful figures on stones. Walking on the same path with his hands on it he learnt it quickly. He says art has influenced culture immensely through variety of contemporary ideas. As years passed by he made many varieties of Ganesh idols in different forms. According to him, “There’s no art without culture, culture is the basis for development of art”.
In Hyderabad, Ganesh Chaturthi was started in 1970’s when Congress was in power with the help of RSS to start this. Then later processions started, these processions went down through Charminar area through Mozamjahi market, Abids, Hussain sagar lake. That was the time when the muslim community in Hyderabad was also organised. It was started in the Hindu locality of Old city says Subodh Singh, who is a lecturer at Jnafau. He also adds, Hyderabad was a very different city demographically and politically at that point of time, in the last 20 years Hyderabad itself has changed both spatially and demographically. It is beautiful to witness how the confluence of atmosphere of both Mecca Masjid and Bhagyalakshmi Temple create a symbol of religious and cultural harmony. Since Ganesh Chathurthi and Muharram falls to be in the same month, we can see how Hyderabadi’s celebrate both these festivals together.
Subodh Singh says, Hyderabad being home to large population of Shia muslims, they celebrate Muharram to mark the sacred month of Muslim New year. In the month of Muharram on it’s 10th day when the sunsets the Shia muslims are dressed in black dress comes out to head for ’ashurkhanas’- the congregation halls. This is located in the old city of Hyderabad where they come to mourn the death of Hazrath Imam Hussain, who died in the battle of ‘Karbala’. Close to 5000 worshippers congregate at ashurkhana, near Charminar. During this time, the relic called ‘Alam’ is taken out on processions. The Alam is kept in a safe made on the design of a Sarcophagus (Zarih). The Relic was preserved in the calligraphic Alam with Arabic lettering of Allah, Mohammed and Ali. This shows how art enchances culture. The relic is believed to have reached Golconda all the way from Karbala in Iraq. The highlight of this festival is that the procession is taken out in the region dominated by Hindu religions in the Telangana. Even Hindus take part in this festival. Hindus and Muslims keep chanting Ya Hussain as they participate in this procession. Since in Hyderabad this festival is also celebrated by Hindus it is also named as ‘Peerla Panduga’. On this special day of Muharram, Hindus visit Sufi shrines. Peerla Panduga is actually an occasion of sorrow where the Hindu devotees respect the sentiments of their Islamic brothers and participate in a solemn procession. The basic idea of this festival is that hope is the only standard concept which is beyond all religions. Hindus treat this relic as their own Gods and Goddesses. Apart from other riots, these processions of both hindus and muslims are held harmoniously and people from different religions come together to celebrate it.
Recently an image went viral on social media, where two groups of people were crossing opposite paths, one side celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi and the other Muharram, people have be seen shaking hands and wishing each other across the road divider. The image is a riot of contrasting colours, but what is common is the joy on people’s faces as they celebrate their festivals and wish each other. Here we see how people from different religions respect each other and live together peacefully through culture. Such dynamics of living gives an insight into important cultural heritage like the Ganga- jamuni tehzeeb, which portrays the diverse culture of a Hyderabad. The Indo-Muslim practices are not evidence of a cultural synthesis, syncretism or hybridity. Rather they are evidences of a successful plural society. Culture and art is there to remind us of the values that we uphold. It makes us realise that we may all come from different walks of life but there are some things that are undeniably common to all of us – like love, friendship, and freedom.